Last week I opened my column with a quote from Hamlet.
Visited by a troupe of travelling players and determined to reveal his uncle’s guilt in murdering his father, Hamlet instructs them to play out a scene which reconstructs the murder, to force a reaction from his uncle.
Theatre, according to Hamlet, has the power “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature” – to reflect the world and, in doing so, to make us see what we may otherwise miss – or choose to hide or ignore.
Last week that quote headed a column about the visual arts, and the role that mirrors have played for artists over time.
But this week I am back in the theatre and looking forward to two shows that do just as Hamlet suggested – forcing us to face up to uncomfortable truths in the world around us.
The first, Grenfell: Value Engineering, is a verbatim reconstruction of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, based entirely on the words of those involved and bringing to the stage some of the dramatic evidence that has been presented during the last four years of the inquiry.
The show is set to play at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill Gate from October 13 to November 13, and has been created by editor Richard Norton-Taylor and director Nicholas Kent – the creative team behind The Colour of Justice (the dramatisation of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry) at the National Theatre, in the West End and on BBC TV, and the Olivier Award-winning Saville Inquiry play Bloody Sunday.
In describing the new show, Kent wrote, “It is impossible to fully understand the pain and suffering of the Grenfell community and the injustice they have suffered and continue to suffer from the unnecessary and tragic fire of June 2017.
“The intention behind the play is to help the public get an overview of the inquiry’s work and to hold the people and systems responsible for the tragedy to account.”
Meanwhile, confronting reality in a different way, a script-in-hand production of Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland plays at the Royal Court Theatre from October 7-16.
Submitted to the theatre in direct response to the recent murders in South London of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, Kirkwood said “This play was for many years a private conversation with myself.
“The horrific murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa this year have galvanised me into making it public.
I hesitate to even call it a play when it is simply a howl, a way of expressing what I feel about a culture of violence against women, but I am sharing it because I wonder if it might express a little of what other people feel about it too.”
Artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre Vicky Featherstone said “Sometimes you don’t know what you need until it arrives like a bolt from the blue and things are turned upside down.
“This is what happened to us at the Royal Court when Lucy Kirkwood’s play Maryland arrived in our inboxes on Friday night.”
Whether a verbatim reconstruction of events or a personal artistic response, a documentary or a rallying cry, these two productions show just how keenly theatre really can force us, in the very best way, to see and to confront all that is wrong in society.
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